PFAS not only contaminate water, they can be in your clothes, your home

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A concerning new study just released sheds new light on how contaminated our drinking water and other things commonly used may be with chemical compounds.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are found not only in groundwater, but also in everyday products.

"PFAS is a chemical that’s designed and used in manufacturing process typically things like coating on fabric, coating on carpets,” said Dr. K.C. Lee of UF Health Jacksonville Poison Control Center.

PFAS can be found in:

  • Food packaged in PFAS-containing materials, processed with equipment that used PFAS or grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water.
  • Commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and fire-fighting foams (a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs).
  • Workplace, including production facilities or industries (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing or oil recovery) that use PFAS.
  • Drinking water, typically localized and associated with a specific facility (e.g., manufacturer, landfill, wastewater treatment plant, firefighter training facility).
  • Living organisms, including fish, animals and humans, where PFAS have the ability to build up and persist over time.

Certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States as a result of phase-outs, including the PFOA Stewardship Program, in which eight major chemical manufacturers agreed to eliminate the use of PFOA and PFOA-related chemicals in their products and as emissions from their facilities. Although PFOA and PFOS are no longer manufactured in the United States, they are still produced internationally and can be imported into the United States in consumer goods such as carpet, leather and apparel, textiles, paper and packaging, coatings, rubber and plastics.

Lee said that there is limited research into whether major exposure or ingestion of PFAS is harmful, but it doesn’t look good.

“We’ve seen some things like different cancers develop. They’ve seen some changes in thyroid and cholesterol levels,” Lee said.

A new survey done by the Environmental Working Group tested groundwater in 44 cities across the United States. Only one didn’t have PFAS contamination. That city was Meridian, Mississippi, which gets its water from a 600 foot deep well.

Miami, the only city in Florida tested, had the third-highest PFAS levels found across the nation.

While Jacksonville was not tested this time, a 2018 groundwater tests at Jacksonville International Airport, Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Camp Blanding all showed traces of PFAS, but no unsafe levels.

The new EWG survey led scientists to believe PFAS is likely detectable in all major water supplies in the U.S. Until more testing is done EWG recommends lowering your PFAS intake in any way you can, including:

  • Cut back on fast food and greasy carryout food. These foods often come in PFAS treated wrappers
  • Tests have shown jackets made by popular name brands like North Face, Patagonia, Adidas, and Columbia contained PFAS chemicals. So do your research when buying outdoor gear. Be wary of fabrics labeled stain or water repellent.
  • Choose personal care products like dental floss without the ingredients PTFE or Fluoro.
  • Stay away from microwavable popcorn bags. The inside is usually coated in PFAs.

If you are concerned about PFAS levels, check in with the EWG and see if you are highly exposed.

What someone does for a living can change how much exposure they have. People who work at PFAS production facilities or facilities that manufacture goods made with PFAS may be exposed in certain occupational settings or through contaminated air.

Drinking water can be a source of exposure due to contaminated water supplies. Such contamination is typically localized and associated with a specific facility, for example,

  • An industrial facility where PFAS were produced or used to manufacture other products, or
  • An oil refinery, airfield or other location at which PFAS were used for firefighting.

If you are concerned with your possible PFAS exposure, speak with your primary care doctor or call Florida’s Poison Control Center at 904-244-7973.

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